William J. Cheney

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

Although few remember him, William J. Cheney was once a prominent landowner and businessman in Tustin.

Born in Los Angeles, he graduated from Woodbury Business College in 1896. Despite his business degree, he was very interested in agriculture. His first venture was farming 300 acres owned by his father in Calabasas. After meeting James Irvine, he leased 960 acres from him in Irvine . He grew beans, barley and hay on this property for many years.

In 1916 he bought 10 acres on the east side of Prospect in Tustin. He planted over 800 Valencia trees and built a home for his wife Eva, a Santa Ana girl whom he had married in 1907, and their two children William J. Jr. and Edra Evelyn. Two years later he purchased 20 acres across the street, ripped out the declining navel and walnut trees and planted 1600 Valencia trees.

In partnership with James Utt he operated a 1,200 tree Valencia nursery on two acres which he owned in Tustin. He also raised wheat, corn and mules on a 300 acre ranch in Tulare County. He was a part owner of Burr Oak, a mule valued at $3000. The animal considered the finest “jack” in Orange County.

In 1928 Cheney built a two story Spanish Colonial Revival home on the 20 acres and moved his family into it. The home was estimated to have cost $20,000.
(Today it is on the market for $2.5 million.)

He became a district manager of the first Farmers Company in California (now Farmers Insurance Group) when it formed in 1928. Based in the Santa Ana office, he sold the California company’s first insurance policy, insuring a 1925 Cadillac Phaeton 9 for Mr. and Mrs. Charles Briscoe of Santa Ana in 1928.

Cheney was secretary of the San Joaquin Lima Bean Growers Association and a stockholder in the First National Bank of Santa Ana. With several other Orange County businessmen, he organized the Wyana Oil Co., which drilled for oil in Wyoming, and served as its president. He was a life member of the Santa Ana Elks Lodge.

Cheney died in 1954 leaving behind a legacy of success as both a farmer and an insurance executive.

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